Pregame Six Pack: An all Hoosiers Shamrock Series


It’s that time of year again. The annual Shamrock Series. For a program built upon tradition and history, consider the Shamrock Series something similar — only started five years ago. (So maybe not that similar at all.)

But the newest barnstorming efforts have warmed up even the most ardent traditionalist, and while the Irish will be taking the field in alternate uniforms (more on this later), the game has grown on people. Starting in San Antonio, moving to Yankee Stadium, the nation’s capital, Solider Field and Jerry Jones’ football Xanadu, the Shamrock Series has taken Notre Dame into geographically important locations and usually paired the Irish will an equally interesting opponent. Making it even better? The Irish have always gone home happy, rolling along to a victory in each of the five games.

Of course, battling Purdue in Indianapolis won’t get confused for playing Miami in Chicago or playing the first football game in new Yankee Stadium. But for an in-state rivalry that’s often felt like second fiddle, it’s almost appropriate that the annual battle for the Shillelagh will end Saturday night, putting a stop to a 69-game streak that was tied for the fourth longest in NCAA history.

With two Irish captains hailing from inside the city limits, returning to Indianapolis will be a homecoming of sorts. With 35 native Hoosiers taking the field between teams, it’ll serve as a regional showcase, not necessarily the original idea for the game, but nothing to be ashamed of, either.

With NBC broadcasting another primetime affair (kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET), let’s get your ready with our Pregame Six Pack. As usual, here are six tidbits, fun facts, leftovers or miscellaneous musings to get you ready for Notre Dame and Purdue.


After 69 years, a streak ends. Let’s show it some respect. 

Notre Dame and Purdue are set to play again in 2020, but an annual battle that dates back to 1946 is ending. That’s a product of a nine-game Big Ten schedule and Notre Dame’s five-game scheduling alliance with the ACC.

A week after the college football world practically mourned the loss of the Irish’s rivalry with Michigan, the break in the series with Purdue is merely a passing thought. And while the Irish’s 57-26-2 record is fairly one-sided, consider this a reminder that there’s been some very good football played in this series.

Here’s a walk down memory lane:

1950, 1954, 1965 and 1967: Purdue knocked off a Notre Dame team that was ranked No. 1 in the country.
1968: With Purdue ranked No. 1 and Notre Dame No.2, the Irish knocked off the Boilermakers 37-22
1979: Purdue quarterback Mark Herrmann led a second-half comeback to beat the No. 5 Irish 28-22.
1984: In their last (and only) neutral site meeting, an unranked Purdue squad knocked off No. 8 Notre Dame 23-21.
1997: In just his second game at Purdue, Joe Tiller shocked Bob Davie’s No. 12 Irish 28-17.
1999: With 3rd-and-goal at the 1, Notre Dame can’t get a final snap off, losing to No. 20 Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium.
2000: Returning the favor, Nick Setta’s field goal with time expiring beat Drew Brees and the No. 13 Boilermakers
2009: With an injury that looked a lot worse than “turf toe,” Jimmy Clausen hit Kyle Rudolph to pull out a win 24-21.
2012: After Purdue tied the game at 17, Tommy Rees entered to boos and led ND to a winning field goal in the game’s final seconds.
2013: Purdue scored the game’s first 10 points, but a 21-point fourth quarter and a pick six help ND win 31-24.

If Purdue managed to find a way to pull off a victory on Saturday night, it’d go to the top of this list as one of the most improbable in the series. And Boilermakers head coach Darrell Hazell knows it.

“I think we can go win this game with the mentality that no one expects us to win,” Hazell said this week.


Notre Dame has a chance to start 3-0. That’s a much bigger deal than you’d expect

Notre Dame stands a win against Purdue away from starting the season 3-0. That would mark the second time in three seasons that the Irish have accomplished that feat.

That stat likely garners a polite golf clap from a usually demanding Irish crowd. But consider that the last time Notre Dame pulled something like that off in two out of three years was during a four-year run in the glory days of Lou Holtz, when the Irish started 3-0 in four straight seasons from 1987-90.

After entering more than a few seasons over the past decade or so with lofty expectations, “Call me after September” turned into a default answer when asked if the Irish had what it takes to compete that season. But a victory over Purdue and a bye week off before heading to the Meadowlands to play Syracuse put the Irish in a place where they’ll likely be 4-0 when they welcome Stanford to South Bend, a game that could have early playoff implications.

From there, things toughen quite a bit, with the Cardinal, North Carolina and Florida State Notre Dame’s October foes. But for anyone looking for another data point that Brian Kelly has things pointing in the right direction, just look at the past 25 years.


Another week, another football game with no news on the suspension of Notre Dame’s five players. 

While the resounding victory certainly muted any of the riotous volleying through Notre Dame’s fandom, another week has come and gone with no update from the university administration on the academic honesty hearings for DaVaris Daniels, Eilar Hardy, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams.

After telling the media two weeks ago that the official investigation into the matter was finished, the Honor Code proceedings, run by the Provost office, have moved forward with radio silence. While that’s been frustrating to the players, their families, their teammates and the Irish coaching staff, Kelly continues to take a “What can you do?” approach.

“You guys are anxious. I’m anxious. We’re all anxious,” Kelly said. “We all want to know but there’s nothing we can do.

“This is separation of church and state. This is the deans. They have their domain and that’s their business. It truly is their business and I respect that. They don’t give me advice about play calling and that’s the truth of the matter. Whether that’s a poor analogy or not, they handle academic honest. They handle those things. That’s their domain and that’s their world. I want my guys back but I get it.”

Kelly said that in a hypothetical world where any of his players are cleared to return to the team even on Friday, he’d dress them and bring them to Indianapolis. Unsure of how prepared they’d be, he’d welcoming them back with open arms.

But result is still unexpected, so the Irish will likely do battle down three projected starters and two veteran reserves for the third time this year.


In Notre Dame’s two opening victories, Everett Golson and the Irish offense have finished the first half with a flourish. 

While both of the Irish’s first two victories looked to be of the blowout variety, both football games would’ve had a much different complexion if Everett Golson didn’t play incredibly dynamic football in the minutes before halftime. The Irish scored a combined 28 points in the final four minutes of the second quarter, putting up two touchdowns against both Rice and Michigan.

“Offensively, obviously the quarterback is a special guy. He makes a lot of plays,” Hazell said this week when asked talking about Golson. “He got himself out of trouble against Rice, he got himself out of trouble against Michigan and made some huge plays for them, especially right before the half. I thought that was the big deciding factor in both of those games, he made some very big plays.”

Golson’s numbers in these critical moments are ridiculous, with the Irish scoring touchdowns on their final two drives before half in each football game. Against Rice, Golson was a bit more heroic; against Michigan more methodical.

Golson was three of four before scampering into the end zone from 14 yards out to score with just 3:18 remaining. But after Matthias Farley’s interception of Driphus Jackson, Golson threw two perfect long balls. The first was dropped by Will Fuller, but C.J. Prosise made amends for an earlier drop, converting a 53-yarder for a touchdown with just five seconds remaining in the half.

Against Michigan, Golson’s penultimate drive before half was a time-consuming march. The Irish went 13 plays over 5:14, with Golson going six of seven before hitting Amir Carlisle on a rollout on 3rd and Goal. The critical throw on that drive was a 4th and 3 conversion, where Golson threw a perfect strike to Will Fuller who beat Blake Countess on an inside release.

With only 1:24 left on the clock, Golson went to work again, escaping danger before finding Fuller, Cam McDaniel and Ben Koyack. But the dagger was the perfect throw to the corner of the end zone, with Fuller beating Countess on 3rd and 1 for a back-breaking 24-yard touchdown.

That staggeringly good football in the minutes before halftime serves as a bullet to the heart of an opponent. We’ll see if Golson delivers another one on Saturday night.


In the short history of the Shamrock Series, Under Armour’s first effort is a good one. 

Few things in college football are as hallowed as the golden helmets and traditional blue and gold of Notre Dame’s uniforms. But even fewer things are more beloved to recruits and 18-to-22-year-old college football players than alternate uniforms.

So while the men on the front porch will never get past seeing the Irish wearing some uniform that makes them look like a team straight out of Any Given Sunday, give Under Armour credit for playing to the soul of the university when it designed this year’s uniform.




While we’re talking alternate uniforms, let’s turn back the clock and take a look at the recent tweaks made.

Notre Dame vs. Army in 2010:











Review: Man, that helmet used to be ugly. But it’s tough to screw up that classic green jersey. 


Notre Dame vs. Maryland in 2011:











Review: Look at all the mismatching golds, all on George Atkinson. And don’t get me started on the helmet swirls. 


Notre Dame vs. Michigan in 2011:











Review: Everything about this game looked pretty good until the fourth quarter. Even the retro uniforms. 


Notre Dame vs. Miami in 2012:









Review: Inverted leprechauns, unbalanced helmet colors. The Irish sure played better than they looked. 


Notre Dame vs. Arizona State in 2013:









Review: Not much to complain about with these uniforms. The all-white look was really smooth. 


After mastering the fundamentals under Bob Diaco, the Irish are playing a new game on defense under Brian VanGorder. 

While the fist pump may be the thing that went viral, Brian VanGorder’s work coaching the Irish defense is doing the same thing to future opponents. After a flurry of third down blitzes and packages suffocated Michigan’s offense, Purdue is just one of ten remaining opponents that are hard at work breaking down tape of Notre Dame’s multiple looks.

Tim Prister over at Irish Illustrated took a deep dive ($) into VanGorder’s exotic third down looks against Devin Gardner and came out thinking no two looked the same. That evaluation may be mirrored by Purdue offensive coordinator John Shoop, who talked about the multiplicity of the Irish blitz packages while complimenting the personnel as well.

“They’re a talented group. They’re a talented group at every level, up front, at the linebackers, in the secondary,” Shoop said. “Scheme-wise, they have as much volume as anybody we’ve seen in a long time.”

Darrell Hazell was adamant about Purdue needing to succeed on first and second down, likely calling on running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, the Big Ten sprint champion.

“Their makeup is completely different on third down than it is on first and second down,” Hazell said, talking about the Irish defense. “You can’t let them get into 3rd-and-9s or 11s, because then they’re going to heat you up.”

For all the worries that existed this offseason about a young Irish defense struggling to mesh with a complex, scheme-heavy defensive coordinator (don’t lie, the name Tenuta came into your head a few times), Notre Dame’s defense has been one of the surprising early successes of the season.

Interestingly, Kelly credited the guy who was no longer on the sidelines for making it all possible.

“It was a big shift. But the fundamentals are there,” Kelly said earlier this week. “When we came here, Bob was the right fit for me, as we needed to reestablish the fundamentals of defense here at Notre Dame. We did that. We laid those principals down, and now we were ready for that next step. And Brian’s brought in some very aggressive packages, especially on third down. Those teams that come in to the game on third down have been very disruptive, and I think it’s the next step for our defensive progression.”

Sam Hartman’s practice debut features Notre Dame veteran Chris Tyree move to receiver, at least for now

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Marcus Freeman’s second spring as Notre Dame’s head coach has begun. As he pointed out Wednesday, it is quarterback transfer Sam Hartman’s sixth spring practice. Both are still looking around a bit for their proper cues, though Hartman’s hesitance now should be short-lived.

“He’s like a freshman, it’s new,” Freeman said. “I was joking with him, this is his sixth spring ball, but you’re at a new place, a new system, still figuring out where to go, what a drill is called, so you can see him at times just trying to say, ‘Okay, where are we going, what’s the drill, what are we doing, how many plays?’

“But he’s got some natural ability when he throws the ball and when he plays the game of football. You’ll see the leadership traits that he possesses grow because I know he has them. He’s a leader the first time you meet him. You can tell that he really commands respect.”

Freeman mentioned a “quarterback competition” between Hartman and rising junior Tyler Buchner only once, something that will reoccur throughout the next month, though more in name than in reality. Whoever takes the lead at quarterback, and it will be Hartman, will have a new target to get comfortable with in rising senior Chris Tyree.

Tyree spent the first spring practice working at receiver after lining up at running back the vast majority of the last three years. Freeman would not commit to that being a full-time shift for Tyree, but given the Irish depth at running back — led by rising juniors Audric Estimé and Logan Diggs, with rising sophomore Gi’Bran Payne the next in line for the spring while classmate Jadarian Price continues to “progress” from a torn Achilles last summer — Tyree working at receiver for the long-term should make some sense.

“He’s a guy that has multiple skill sets, and we know Chris Tyree is a guy we have to have on the football field,” Freeman said. “The ability to put him at wideout, we know what he can do as a running back, to really be a guy that can do multiple different things.”

Tyree took 100 rushes for 444 yards and three touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 138 yards and two more scores last year. The ball-carrying was a step forward compared to his previous seasons, but he caught 24 passes for 258 yards in 2021. In three games in 2022, Tyree gained more than 20 yards through the air. He was one of the more reliable pass-catchers on Notre Dame’s roster last season, finishing tied for fourth in receptions, one behind Jayden Thomas’s 25 catches and just six behind Lorenzo Styles, the leading returning receiver.

“You’re seeing more of that in college football and in the NFL,” Freeman said. “Guys that can play multiple different skill positions on offense, so do you treat him as a running back, do you treat him as a wideout? That’s what we have to do, and gain confidence in the quarterbacks in him as a wide receiver.”

Tyree’s shift was the most notable on the field on the first day of spring practices, but a handful of absences also stood out.

Junior linebacker Will Schweitzer, junior safety Justin Walters and junior quarterback Ron Powlus III have taken medical retirements, while junior cornerback Philip Riley, junior offensive lineman Caleb Johnson and junior kicker Josh Bryan are all no longer with the program, presumably each pursuing a transfer following this semester.

With those departures, Notre Dame’s roster now has 87 players on scholarship, two more than the NCAA maximum allowed when the season starts.

In hiring Marty Biagi from Mississippi, Freeman strayed from his usual habit of hiring coaches he has previous experience with. He did, however, have some mutual connections to reach out to about Biagi.

“I remember when we were playing Purdue when I was defensive coordinator (at Notre Dame in 2021), I was sitting in a special teams meeting, and they did some unique things on special teams.

“I still know some people back in West Lafayette from my time there, and he does, too. Somehow his name got brought up, so I was interested in interviewing him last year before I hired [former Irish special teams coordinator Brian Mason]. I didn’t know [Biagi] personally, but I had talked to him before, I knew enough about him. It’s important because you need to know when you’re not around, you can trust those guys that you’re working with.”

Defensive backs Cam Hart and Thomas Harper will both be held out of contact for at least the near future as they recover from winter shoulder surgeries, while early-enrolled defensive lineman Devan Houstan Will Likely miss all springtime work due to his own recent shoulder surgery.

Tight ends Eli Raridon and Kevin Bauman will not take part this spring due to ACL injuries in the fall.

Freeman expressed some optimism about Price’s timeline, but even that was measured.

“I don’t know if he will be full go, but he has done a lot of running and I see him progressing to more and more actual football practice.”

Given Price is still less than a calendar year from a ruptured Achilles, it is most likely he is limited well into the summer.

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Quarterbacks — Sam Hartman and Tyler Buchner and Co.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 North Carolina at Wake Forest
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For a position that has undergone a run of tumult since the start of the 2022 season, Notre Dame’s quarterback depth chart somehow still could not be more stable now.

Since Marcus Freeman’s first game as the Irish head coach, his starter was knocked out for the season, the backup that fought and clawed his way to eight wins in 10 games opted to transfer before the bowl game, one of the most prolific passers in NCAA history transferred into Notre Dame, and then the offensive coordinator left.

All of that to end up with Wake Forest graduate transfer Sam Hartman as the presumptive Irish starter, backed up by 2022’s initial starter in Tyler Buchner, and coached by quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli and offensive coordinator Gerad Parker. Not to mention, two more quarterbacks filling out the depth chart.

Hartman opted to join that chaos partly because, as he figured it, he was going to start over anew somewhere regardless. After five years at Wake Forest, the veteran wanted to move. Whether it was in the NFL or at Notre Dame, he would need to win over a new locker room.

“Often I see people that are done with school or run out of eligibility or even have eligibility (but) declare, that (college) opportunity never comes again,” he said earlier this month. “… On the NFL side of it, this is what you have to do when you go into the league, come into a new place where there’s not a lot of familiar faces. The battle is definitely uphill. You have to come in and establish a leadership role while also trying to figure out and follow.”

Hartman’s logic was sound, but there is one key difference between the NFL and Notre Dame: He will be the starter in South Bend this fall.

In that respect, this will be the third straight year the Irish have insisted on the optics of a quarterback competition in the spring and perhaps the preseason. When Jack Coan transferred to Notre Dame in January of 2021, it was obvious he would start against Florida State to open that season, yet freshman Tyler Buchner and sophomore Drew Pyne were still mentioned as competing with Coan for that gig throughout the spring and a week into the preseason.

Despite Buchner rather clearly surpassing Pyne that season, the entire exercise was conducted all over again in the spring of 2022, Buchner named the starter as expected a week into preseason practices last August.

Hartman will start in Dublin on Aug. 26 (159 days), no matter what Guidugli may say now. That much did not change with the coaching changes this winter and spring.

“Tyler Buchner and Steve Angeli and Sam Hartman, Kenny Minchey, all those guys are going to get an opportunity,” Guidugli said. “I come in with a clean slate, not knowing any of those guys, so I’m anxious to see what all of them can do, I’m anxious to see how they lead, I’m anxious to see how they retain information, I’m anxious to see how they perform, how they execute, how the offense responds to them.”

That quarterback competition may have had an ounce of authenticity if Pyne had stuck around South Bend, a somewhat proven starter to go up against Hartman, but even that would have been only a matter of time. As it stands, Pyne’s focus is on keeping his job at Arizona State in front of the most controversial recruit of the class of 2023, Jaden Rashada.

2022 STATS
Drew Pyne: 11 games; 2,021 yards on 8.0 yards per attempt and a 64.6 percent completion rate; 22 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
Tyler Buchner: 3 games; 652 yards on 7.9 yards per attempt and a 55.4 percent completion rate; 3 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.

Sam Hartman at Wake Forest in 2022: 12 games; 3,701 yards on 8.6 yards per attempt and a 63.1 percent completion rate; 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Sam Hartman in his career at Wake Forest: 12,967 yards on 8.1 yards per attempt and a 59.1 percent completion rate; 110 touchdowns and 41 interceptions.

Don’t scoff. A prodigious season could propel Hartman into some lofty air. That is obviously partly due to the benefit of a sixth season, granted by the universal pandemic eligibility waiver. But Hartman also missed up to 18 games in his career to injury, depth chart and the pandemic. If he plays 13 games this season, Hartman will appear in a total of 61 games in his career. That will be more than any of the players yet ahead of him in career passing touchdowns or career passing yards, but that aside, Hartman should move his name up the NCAA record books this season.

Career passing touchdowns
No. 1 — Case Keenum, 155 touchdowns
Tied at No. 4 — Colt Brennan, Rakeem Cato, Baker Mayfield, 131 touchdowns
No. 10 — Luke Falk, 119 touchdowns
No. 15 — Derek Carr, 113 touchdowns
No. 18 — Sam Hartman, 110 career touchdowns

Career passing yards
No. 1 — Case Keenum, 19,217 yards
No. 5 — Ty Detmer, 15,031 yards
No. 10 — Rakeem Cato, 14,079 yards
No. 15 — Philip Rivers, 13,484 yards
No. 19 — Sam Hartman, 12,967 career yards

It feels like a quip to be offered in March so that April progress can be that much more lauded.

“With the coaching change prior to me coming in, [Hartman] thought he should be further along in February than what he was,” Guidugli said. “There wasn’t anything I could do about that.”

Games are not won in February film sessions. Weight room work, perhaps, but not in studying film. Habits are built then, but Hartman should not need earnest discipline. He has already begun moving forward with Guidugli.

“[Guidugli] has taken this thing by the reins for the quarterbacks, and along with that is just the quarterback room, we stuck together,” Hartman said. “I knew Tyler (Buchner) a bit before, had no idea who Steve (Angeli) was, obviously [early-enrolled freshman Kenny Minchey] is showing up just like I was. It’s a really tight-knit group.”

None of that group holds Rees’s departure against him — “Obviously, it was a great opportunity for him,” Hartman said — but they all know they need to learn the same language now. That will be the springtime priority.

“The key there is my communication with [newly-promoted offensive coordinator Gerad Parker],” Guidugli said. “I have to be speaking the same language.”

From Parker to Guidugli to four quarterbacks from three different backgrounds, finding the same language might take a few weeks. Guidugli has already been picking Hartman’s brain off old Wake Forest film, learning what his eventual starter is used to in terms of pre-snap procedures, etc.

“I’ve been learning from the guys as much as they’ve been learning from me,” Guidugli said. 

Ignore the spring platitudes about a quarterback competition. If they carry into the preseason, they will provide a headline some Saturday in August when in-depth writing is not yet applicable. Beyond that, there is no meaningful quarterback competition.

There are, however, spring priorities. Primarily, getting Hartman onto the same page as Guidugli and Parker.

RELATED READING: Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive line, suddenly inexperienced and unproven
Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Tight ends, moving on from an all-time great
Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Running backs, led by a familiar ‘three-headed monster’
Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Linebackers, led by a trio of veterans and little change
Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive backs, with a star sophomore and an Oklahoma State transfer
Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Offensive line, returning bookend tackles and a three-year starter at center
Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Receivers, finally a filled depth chart

Minchey did not commit to Notre Dame until late November, de-committing from Pittsburgh not long before he did so. He enrolled early, anyway.

“I feel like it’s big, as far as any quarterback across the country, you want to early enroll, get in as early as you can, learn the playbook, because that’s big compared to any other position,” Minchey said. “Coming in, learn the playbook, mesh with the guys, everything like that. I like just getting in, building that connection.”

A shoulder injury truncated Minchey’s senior season, but he expects to be full-go in spring practices, beginning tomorrow.

“I am working back into it,” he said two weeks ago. “I am reconditioning my arm right now, building back, working back, building up strength.”

He does not need to rush into that, though, given Notre Dame expects him to be fourth on its depth chart this season.

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Receivers, finally a filled depth chart

Brigham Young v Notre Dame
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Notre Dame’s next generation of receivers is already on campus. The trio of four-star recruits of Jayden Greathouse, Braylon James and Rico Flores all enrolled early, though Greathouse and Flores arrived with nicks that are expected to no longer be issues when spring practices begin Wednesday, but a touch of caution could still slow them all the same.

Along with them, the Irish welcome Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kaleb Smith. When an incoming freshman by the same name arrives in the summer, Notre Dame will suddenly have 10 receivers on hand.

That may seem an odd way to begin an article previewing a position before spring practices, but it is the biggest difference between where the Irish were and where they are. Notre Dame simply having receivers on hand is a drastic change. Last preseason, it was working with just six receivers, including a former walk-on and an incoming freshman. The sole veteran in the group, Braden Lenzy, would lament that there were not enough receivers on hand for he and an underclassman to both stand by during a rep so Lenzy could coach up the youngster.

Building the depth chart back out to nine or 10 receivers will give position coach Chansi Stuckey time to work with players individually, players like Greathouse, James and Flores. That said, there may be no established veteran like Lenzy to pass along insights. Only the former Hokie would qualify, and he openly acknowledges he is facing his own learning curve.

“I’ve had four or five different receiver coaches at this point,” Smith said earlier this month. “It’s been a rotating door. We’re teaching an old dog new tricks here at Notre Dame is what I can sum it up as.”

Injuries decimated this group in 2022, and in turn, they compromised the Irish offense. Joe Wilkins suffered a foot injury in the preseason that effectively cost him his season. Avery Davis tore his ACL for a second time, ending his career. Then-sophomore Deion Colzie injured his knee, slowing his start to what was expected to be a breakout season.

A November concussion would cut short then-freshman Tobias Merriweather’s progress, eventually leaving Notre Dame with just four receivers it could rely on toward the end of the year. More than anything else — more than former Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’s preferences, more than Notre Dame’s deep backfield — that lack of receivers limited the Irish offense.

The more wide-open the Irish offense ran, the more those few receivers would wear out. Notre Dame could not operate as such.

2022 STATS
Lorenzo Styles: 13 games; 30 catches for 340 yards and one touchdown.
Jayden Thomas: 13 games; 25 catches for 362 yards and three touchdowns.
Braden Lenzy: 13 games; 24 catches for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
Deion Colzie: 12 games; 9 catches for 192 yards and one touchdown.
Matt Salerno: 13 games; 5 catches for 62 yards and one touchdown.
Tobias Merriweather: 7 games; 1 catch for a 41-yard touchdown.

Styles may return more catches than any other Irish receiver, but he also returns more drops than the rest combined, with six just last season. The headlines may focus on Notre Dame’s new receivers — alternately the three freshmen and the veteran transfer with size for new Irish quarterback Sam Hartman to throw to — but Styles rediscovering his focus and/or his confidence would be the biggest step forward for Hartman’s pass catchers.

Smith will battle rising junior Jayden Thomas to be Hartman’s primary big-bodied target. Thomas’s run-blocking abilities could even turn him into a pseudo-slot receiver, allowing them both to conceivably start.

There are options, unlike a year ago. Further development from Merriweather would only add to them, as would any of Greathouse, James or flores quickly progressing.

“We know what the offense has looked like, and the coaches have talked to me since I started being recruited about what it could look like in the future with me a part of it,” Greathouse said to Inside ND Sports earlier in the winter, before Rees left for Alabama. “I definitely think that they want to start airing the ball out.

“That’s what the coaches have been telling me, is that they want to be throwing the ball all over the field. And I think once our recruiting class starts making an impact, we’ll definitely be able to start doing that.”

That would have been the case regardless who the offensive coordinator was in 2023. Gerad Parker will have more receiving options at his disposal than Rees did in 2022, adding layers of possibilities to the Irish offense.

RELATED READING: Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive line, suddenly inexperienced and unproven
Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Tight ends, moving on from an all-time great
Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Running backs, led by a familiar ‘three-headed monster’
Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Linebackers, led by a trio of veterans and little change
Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive backs, with a star sophomore and an Oklahoma State transfer
Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Offensive line, returning bookend tackles and a three-year starter at center

The younger Smith’s arrival will almost certainly be a non-item for 2023, sparing us all any extensive confusion between one Kaleb Smith beginning his career and one Kaleb Smith ending his career in the same season.

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Offensive line, returning bookend tackles and a three-year starter at center

Clemson v Notre Dame
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When Brent Pry arrived at Virginia Tech last offseason, the new Hokies head coach understood he had a deep hole to climb out of if he wanted to return Blacksburg to ACC contention. Pry set out to hire coaches who would stick around and help with that climb, including offensive line coach Joe Rudolph.

One season later, Rudolph is now preparing for Notre Dame’s spring practices beginning March 22. That departure is not a reflection of Rudolph dismissing his original intentions, but rather of how alluring the Irish offensive line coaching job was after Harry Hiestand retired following Tommy Rees’s departure for Alabama.

Notre Dame is an appealing coaching gig in a vacuum, the Irish offensive line position duties just as much so. But the 2023 possibilities attracted a few of the better line coaches in the country, given two future first-round draft picks should start at the tackle spots and Zeke Correll will start at center for a third season. Add in a plethora of highly-sought former recruits on the depth chart, and Notre Dame’s offensive line should make nearly any coach look good.

On top of all that, Irish head coach Marcus Freeman sold Rudolph with his favorite catchphrase.

“That’s not always in fashion to say, ‘This is an O-line driven place and the O-line sets the tone,’” Rudolph said earlier this month of his interview conversations with Freeman. “He took a lot of pride in saying it and said it in a few of the meetings we had. That hits deep to me.

“It’s how I grew up when I played. I felt that responsibility as a player. It really hit home for me.”

The opportunity to lean into the offensive line at Notre Dame was simply too much for Rudolph to turn down to stay at Virginia Tech.

The Irish lost two captains, two multi-year starters, two massive human beings in guards Jarrett Patterson and Josh Lugg. Their combined 79 starts is not simply a stat in the rearview mirror.

Here is a 2023 prediction: When Notre Dame struggles to run through Central Michigan on Sept. 16, the fanbase’s consternation will be met with this space repeating Lugg’s accurate philosophizing a year ago about how an offensive line needs some time to coalesce. In each of the last three seasons, that was an Irish need, and in each of the last three seasons, that became an Irish reality.

In 2022, it was because Notre Dame was working in a pair of green tackles. In 2023, it will be because the Irish are finding their footing with a pair of green guards.

2022 STATS
Joe Alt (two years of eligibility remaining entering the 2023 season): 13 starts at left tackle
Jarrett Patterson: 12 starts at left guard
Andrew Kristofic (two years of eligibility remaining): 11 games, started the season opener at left guard in place of Patterson
Zeke Correll (two years): 13 starts at center
Josh Lugg: 13 starts at right guard
Blake Fisher (three years): 13 starts at right tackle

Tosh Baker (two years): 13 games
Rocco Spindler (three years): 12 games
Michael Carmody (two years): 1 game

Those three starters are established. It would take injury to change them.

Alt (pictured at top) will be a preseason All-American at left tackle and likely first-round draft pick 13 months from now.
Correll will start for a third season at center and about halfway through the year the Irish will start pondering if they should talk him into a sixth collegiate year in 2024.
Fisher will start at right tackle and could join Alt in the NFL draft with a strong year. While that may panic Notre Dame fans, a season producing a pair of first-round tackles should be a season with some substantial successes in the fall, as well.

But those two guard spots will lead to much springtime and preseason wonder. Rudolph does not know who will emerge, obviously, but he indicated he will take the same approach that Hiestand did and find his best five players first, their positions second.

“You’d be selling the group short if you weren’t trying to find the best five,” Rudolph said. “You have to do that with some vision of how the whole group fits together.

“There might be someone who is competing their tail off, and they might back up [Alt] or back up [Correll], but if they play in a way this spring where you see they’re one of those five (best), you can easily move them to a position and have them ready in fall camp and all summer to take that over.”

The initial candidates should be rising junior Rocco Spindler, fifth-year Andrew Kristofic and perhaps rising sophomore Billy Schrauth. Kristofic has starting experience, most notably stepping in at left guard for the second half of the 2021 season, with much success. The other two are unknowns since high-profile recruitments.

For the moment, presume the starting guards come from that trio. The player to nominally come up short should still anticipate playing in 2023. Notre Dame’s offensive line health in 2022 was absurd. Aside from Patterson suffering a foot injury in August, no offensive lineman endured notable injury.

That may have been karmic justice for the historical string of injuries at left tackle in 2021, needing four underclassmen to take their knocks just to get through the first half of the season, but it was still the first time since 2017 the Irish enjoyed such fortune up front, needing at least two reserves in each of the four intervening seasons.

It would be irrational to expect such luck again, giving tangible motivation to the three other rising sophomores as well as a pair of rising juniors, none of whom have seen the field yet.

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Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Linebackers, led by a trio of veterans and little change
Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive backs, with a star sophomore and an Oklahoma State transfer

Hiestand pulled in a total of 10 offensive linemen in the last two classes, though Joey Tanona was already forced into retirement due to a concussion suffered in a car accident last winter. Nonetheless, those nine underclassmen present Rudolph plenty of options moving forward, all notable recruits, part of the luxury of taking this job.